21 FREE Things to Do in London the Locals Love

By on Published: November 9, 2015 | Last Updated: July 4, 2020 in Budget Travel Ideas, Europe, UK with 17 Comments

21 FREE Things to Do in London

One of the most iconic cities in the world, when you visit London it’s hard not to get overwhelmed by the number of things to do there and how much it can all cost.

But fear not, there’s a heap of free things to do in this great city which, after living there for over 3 years, I certainly know a thing or 2 about!

So with both some popular classics, as well as some more unusual attractions on the list, here are my top 25 free things to do in London that the locals love and you will too!


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#1 Wander the Tate Modern

England, London, Tate Modern

Coming in at number one, it’s my favourite gallery in the capital and one that won’t cost you a penny to visit.

Yes the Tate Modern is an absolutely incredible modern art space that is totally free to enter.

Showcasing contemporary exhibits from some of the best artists around the world, the permanent and temporary collections here are an eclectic delight that never fail to inspire and intrigue.

 

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#2 Stroll the Southbank

Located on the Southbank, the area around the Tate Modern is beautiful with a lot to explore too, which is why it’s number 2 on this list of the free things to do in London!

Yes strolling the Southbank, literally the bank on the Southside of the Thames, is a wonderful way to take in some of the capital’s best views and attractions.

From the London Eye to the National Theatre, the Globe Theatre (great theatre is one of the main reasons why I miss living in London!) to the Southbank Centre, this place is alive with artistic offerings.

There’s also some great pubs and restaurants to enjoy here (as well as markets and festivals), so why not take it all while you gaze at the iconi River Thames, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

I quite often meet friends here (especially during the holiday season when there’s a winter festival running), so I know Southbank is a favourite haunt for locals and tourists alike.

 

#3 Take in the View from Parliament Hill

England, London, Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill is one of the tallest viewpoints within London and climbing up here to see the city’s skyline is certainly one of the best free things to do in London that the locals love too.

Located within the wild and wonderful Hampstead Heath in North London, take a ramble on the heath first and then enjoy picnic up on the hill while you take in a stellar sunset view.

You can even take a dip in the Hampstead Heath Bathing Ponds here too for as little as £2 – it’s a massive hit with everyone in the summer.

 

#4 Wander Wimbledon Common

Another great place to swim outside in London is Tooting Bec Lido and while this isn’t free (although it is very cheap), nearby Wimbledon Common is a lovely place for a wild stroll.

It hardly feels like the city this far down in South London, as the expansive common here, with its lovely walking trails and woodlands, is the perfect break from the bustling traffic and busy city life.

And don’t forget to look out for a womble or 2 here as well!

 

#5 Marvel at Street Performers in Covent Garden

England, London, Covent Garden

Behind the world-famous Strand lies the gorgeous square of Covent Garden.

With plenty of atmosphere, this is a lovely little place to have lunch, peruse the market or marvel at the array of street performers that dot the area.

Kids especially will love the incredible living statues and entertainers who bring a real sense of occasion to this historic marketplace.

Covent Garden is also great for shopping.

The area around has a lovely mix of high-street as well as independent retailers, and outside of the weekend, is often delightfully quiet.

 

#6 Snap Neal’s Yard

And if you want to discover a hidden spot just off Covent Garden, then look no further than Neal’s Yard.

An Instagram favourite thanks to its discrete location and beautifully bright coloured buildings, this tiny square also has some great cafes and is the perfect place to sit down, chill and take it all in.

 

#7 Stroll the Canal to Victoria Park

UK, London, Victoria Park

Over in East London, Victoria Park is a favourite green space of mine

With plenty of pubs and cafes to enjoy on its outskirts, it’s a great place to relax.

Plus the market weekend here is a winner.

If you are feeling energetic then I also highly recommend strolling along Regents Canal, which runs next to Victoria Park and is part of a huge green corridor stretching through this area of London.

At the weekend, Victoria Park is packed with locals – from young families to trendy hipsters – and there is a great atmosphere to enjoy, as well as some prime picnic activity and many free community events.

Other great local outdoor spaces in east London include Hackney Wick Marshes and the Walthamstow Wetlands – all free and great spots for a ramble… or a birdwatch!

 

#8 Discover Epping Forest

UK, London, Epping Forest

And while we’re talking about ramble spots in east London, it’s hard to overlook the wonder that is Epping Forest.

Located on the border with Essex, you can reach this historic forest area by travelling either on the Central line east or the London Overground to Chingford.

From here, it’s just a short stroll to the forest where you’ll find ponds, walking trails, a huge amount of trees and some historic attractions in one of London’s largest green spaces.

Ideal for a Sunday stroll, this truly is a great spot to come and get away from it all.

 

#9 Watch the Changing of the Guards

Changing of the Guard

Ok, so maybe this isn’t a local favourite, but it’s pretty fun nonetheless.

Most London visitors love to experience a bit of the pomp and ceremony this city is famous for, so why not get your fix right outside the Buckingham Palace.

Every day at 11.30am in the summer and every other day in the winter, you see the Queen’s Guard changing inside the gates of this royal residence.

Certainly one of the best free things to do in London, enjoying this historic spectacle is great for any visitor.

 

#10 Marvel at Trafalgar Square

And sticking with a touch of pomp and ceremony, you can’t miss Trafalgar Square when it comes to the best places to visit for free in Central London.

Whether it’s during the holiday season to see the huge Christmas Tree, or during the summer months to sit out in the sun and enjoy the buzz at the heart of this city, there’s no question the grand statues, buildings, roads and icons that make up this square and its surrounds are some of London’s best.

No surprise therefore that it’s just as popular with locals as it is with visitors!

 

#11 Enjoy the Smells of Columbia Road Flower Market

England, London, Columbia Road

This beautiful market is one of my favourites in the capital for its sights, smells and sounds.

Held every weekend in East London, it’s a real local affair and crammed with all sorts of floral gifts, delights, treats and surprises.

Wandering around it, soaking up the atmosphere with a lovely coffee in hand is the best way to start a Sunday when you visit London.

Just prepare yourself for the crowds!

Afterwards, pop to nearby Brick Lane and enjoy some more great food and boutique shops locals here love.

There’s a real buzz and sense of community to this whole area, which makes exploring it definitely one of the best free things to do in London.

And if you are over in east London with more time on your hands, then check out this great list of fun things to do in Shoreditch – it’s one of my fav parts of the city.

 

#12 Check Out Hackney City Farm

Another fun thing to do in the Shoreditch vicinity is to check out Hackney City Farm.

Located near Haggerston Station, this is a great one for kids (obviously) but can be a nice afternoon for adults too!

With a lovely onsite cafe and shop, as well as Haggerston Park nearby for a stroll, this is a great free thing to do in London if you want a bit of countryside in your life!

 

#13 Stand at the Centre of Time in Greenwich

England, London, Greenwich

I used to live fairly near Greenwich, albeit in a much less salubrious area, and always enjoyed visiting this Royal Park.

A special part of this place is the observatory that sits at the top of the hill.

Here you can learn a fascinating amount of information about how humans first came to use a globally standardised measurement of time and enjoy placing one foot either side of the GMT meridian line that dictates how we tell the time across the globe today.

Greenwich also boasts the National Maritime Museum, which is free to enter, as well as a beautiful marketplace that comes to life at the weekend.

Spending a morning in this gorgeous south London village along the river is well worth it.

 

#14 Discover the Horniman Museum

And while we’re talking about museums, another great free one down in South London is the Horniman Museum, which is located not far from Greenwich in an area known as Forest Hill.

This place really is a gem of a find and a huge hit with locals who come here for the beautiful gardens, great exhibits as well as the butterfly house and animal walk.

 

#15 Surprise Yourself at the Imperial War Museum

England, London, Imperial War Museum

I’ll let you in on a little local secret here – out of all the free museums and exhibitions to enjoy in London, the Imperial War Museum is by the far the best!

I know, it doesn’t sound too exciting, but this fantastic museum wonderfully charts peoples’ stories from World War I through to present-day conflicts in very interesting, engaging, interactive and captivating ways.

Located down in South London in the borough of Lambeth, this diamond of a destination is well worth spending a whole afternoon at and can be easily enjoyed by the whole family.

 

#16 Take a Free Walking Tour

No list of the best free things to do in London would be complete without mentioning this, so I’m getting to it in here – absolutely one of the best things to do in this historic capital is to take a free walking tour!

There’s so many to choose from that it’s impossible to list them all here, so pick one that suits you in terms of starting time and location, or one that fits with your interests best – be that history, art, food, architecture or more…

 

#17 Listen in at Speakers Corner, Hyde Park

England, London, Hyde Park

Located in the northeastern part of Hyde Park, near Marble Arch, this historic corner has longed been used as a debating post, a symbol of free speech and democracy.

Nowadays it takes on a rather more colourful persona, but is always worth checking out on a Sunday when some great characters take it upon themselves to entertain the assembled crowds.

After you’ve had your fill of politics, you can then wander done to Kensington Gardens, in the southwestern part of Hyde Park, and check out the annual summer architectural commission at the Serpentine Pavilion.

This great exhibition is free and every year showcases an original and experimental temporary structure designed by one of the world’s leading architects.

As one of the most visited architecture exhibitions in the world, it’s definitely one of the best free things to do in London and is loved by many locals here.

 

#18 Stroll Oxford Street

And if you’re in Hyde Park, you then can’t miss the chance to wander past Marble Arch and down one of the world’s most famous shopping streets.

Providing you don’t go into any of the shops, and simply enjoy the window displays and atmosphere, this is totally free!

The holiday season is a great time to visit if you want to see the best window displays on Oxford Street, otherwise, during the summer months, the sunny vibes in and around nearby Carnaby Street certainly take some beating 🙂

 

#19 Bargain Hunt at Portobello Markets

UK, London, Portobello

This crazy, colourful market is meant to be the largest antique market in the world and while everything there might not be as genuine as it claims to be, it’s great fun sorting through much of the eclectic range on offer to find yourself a bargain.

Running every day of the week, the main markets at Portobello happen at the weekend.

As well as many antique and bric-a-brac stalls, you can also shop here for fruit and vegetables, vintage clothes, books, records and second-hand goods.

If you’re into markets, then other great ones in London include Camden Market in North London and Borough Market near London Bridge – exploring them is certainly one of the best free things to do in London that locals here love.

 

#20 Hear Big Ben Chime

An oldie but a classic, being around Big Ben on the hour to capture one of the world’s most famous clocks chime, is an absolute must during any trip to London.

Bucket list tick win, this guy is UNESCO-listed too!

Located at the northern end of the Palace of Westminster, the nearest tube station to this famous bell is Westminster Station, which sits on the Jubilee, Circle and District lines.

 

#21 Take in the View from the Sky Garden

And finally, last on my list of the 21 top free things to do in London is take in the view of this amazing city from one of the best spots.

And that spot is the incredible Sky Garden, which won’t cost you a thing to get into!

The city’s highest public garden, you must book your free place via the website in advance for this popular spot, but the unparalleled views over Central London it gives are well worth it.

 

More Great Free Things To Do in London

UK, London, Finsbury Park

  • British Museum
  • Science Museum
  • Victoria & Albert Museum
  • Tate Gallery
  • National Gallery
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Whitechapel Gallery
  • Wellcome Collection
  • British Library
  • Broadway Market
  • Brick Lane
  • Camden Market
  • Borough Market
  • Coal Drop Yard

 

Finding Cheap Train & Bus Tickets in the UK

When it comes to the quickest and easiest way to book train and bus tickets across Europe, look no further than Trainline.

Offering the best prices, with a handy journey planning feature and live departure updates, this is my one-stop shop when it comes to organising all my Europe adventures on a budget.

 

Top Budget Tips for London Travel

London, Victoria Station, Clock

Stay: Premier Inn and Travelodge offer excellent budget hotel accommodation within London and regularly run special deals. Check the links for the best deals. Otherwise, when it comes to hostel accommodation, you can’t go wrong with the amazingly named Barmy Badger Backpackers!

TransportGetting to London from elsewhere in UK is cheapest via the Megabus. Otherwise, budget airlines EasyJet and Ryanair offer cheap European air connections. Look for flights to cheap London airports such as Luton or Stanstead and then use public transport to get to the city centre.

Eat: Buy cheap snacks at supermarkets such as Sainburys for lunch or peruse the local markets at places like Brixton, Lewisham or Dalston. For dinner head to Brick Lane for delicious, cheap Indian food or to Kingsland Road for well-priced and excellent Vietnamese fare.

Attractions: If you want to bucket list a lot of stuff in London in a short amount of time, then a great money-saving option is to invest in a London Pass. This offers discounted entry at stacks of attractions round the city as well as fast track entry!

 

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So those are my top 21 free things to do in London that locals love.

Have you visited London?

What was your favourite free thing to enjoy there?

 

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 17 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Tara & Vic says:

    London is one of our favorite cities in the world! We’ve been there a couple of times but can’t get enough of it 🙂 Thanks for these great tips, now we know where to go on our next visit!

    Tara & Vic

    http://www.capecoconut.com

  2. K. says:

    Ah, Greenwich is a favourite of mine. Also – sitting in Regent’s Park throwing stale bread to the ducks. Good times! 🙂

  3. Sophie says:

    I absolutely love the imperial war museum. I feel like every time I go there I learn something new. Such a great museum and an incredible building too.

  4. My favourite thing to do for free in London is the National History Museum. If you are in London definiately go and check it out!

  5. carole smale says:

    Carole Smale

    We went to London in the 80s. I just loved this great city and we enjoyed so many sights. Pavement artists, a group roasting chestnuts, somebody taking a fox for a walk. I never got to the imperial war museum. I am third generation south africdan but have strong roots in England. I felt I had come back to mother England.
    Loved the tube station too as there were muscians and a man with his group of dogs looked like a permanent fixture.

    What about highgate cemetary and all the wonderful hidden parks .
    If you are tired of London you are tired of life.

  6. Danielle says:

    I can’t wait to visit the Imperial War Museum and all the others when we go next March. Thanks for the ideas! 😀

  7. Faith says:

    I am currently just outside of London and love having inexpensive things to do as the train trip in is quite expensive. Luckily we found if we buy a travelcard it covers us for all modes of transportation and gives us a lot of 2 for 1 offers on things we simply could not afford. We took advantage of this and bought 2 for 1 on the London Eye and a River cruise so we got to Greenwich and hubs had a glorious time, he’s a sailor so had to take in the Cutty Sark…lol..

    • Steph says:

      Thanks awesome Faith, what a fantastic budget tip, thanks so much for sharing! Greenwich is fabulous and glad you got to experience the London Eye too. The views from up there are the best!

  8. Great tips, we spent a few days last Christmas in London, loved it. Our tip not free but great cheap tour the No11 bus,regular bus route that goes past big ben etc. just google no11 bus route London. Couple of other great bus as well. 🙂

    • Steph says:

      This is a fantastic tip guys! Thank you so much! Public buses that run through the centre of London are great for sightseeing on the cheap, so cheers for the route info! Seriously top bit of advice for us budget travllers 🙂

  9. Nancy says:

    I lived in London for two years and had many visitors during that time who all wanted a free tour guide! FYI: All museums in London are FREE; and standing on the timeline in Greenwich or visiting the observatory is NOT free. It is a lovely area though with great views, good pubs, a replica of the Cutty Sark and beautiful green areas right next to the river. There is a river boat/water taxi stop there too which provides a fun and much more scenic way to get there rather than taking the tube!

    • Steph says:

      Thank you so much Nancy for this great update. It sounds like you did a wonderful job of tour guiding your friends and I feel lucky to have your contributions here too. You are right, Greenwich is a lovely area of London for visitors and the riverboat/water taxi is a great way to cruise the Thames for cheap and certainly more pleasant than the tube! 🙂

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